Saturday, July 12, 2008

Food Is No Joke Now

Rising Food Prices Prompt British Government to Urge Frugality

During the war, Nazi Germany's U-boats crippled the flow of ships carrying food to Britain. Diets were tightly controlled by rationing. Bananas and pineapples became exotic treats, and enterprising housewives traded recipes for baked hedgehog and carrot fudge.
The experts say the postwar era of cheap food has ended _ squeezed by the demands of a growing world population, a greater appetite for meat among emerging middle classes in China and India and the pressure on agricultural land from biofuel production.

"Recent food price rises are a powerful reminder that access to ever more affordable food cannot be taken for granted," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a foreword to a bleak new report by Britain's Cabinet Office. The report says the task of feeding a larger, richer world population _ while simultaneously tackling climate change _ is far greater than imagined. The World Bank estimates the cost of food staples has risen 83 percent in three years.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London's City University, said junk food will remain readily available, but good quality, nutritious produce could become scarce worldwide.
"There has been 60 years of silence on this issue," he said. "We haven't had any sort of overview of food policy since the end of the Second World War. I think we need to accept that food is once again in a wartime state.

Some Britons might find it a tad galling to take advice on food frugality from the prime minister, who along with fellow Group of Eight leaders dined on sumptuous feasts during their summit this week. But the government says the public might find one solution by looking into their garbage pail. Britons throw out 4.5 million tons of edible food a year, or about $830 worth per home _ wastefulness the government says contributes substantially to rising prices.

Brown wants Britons to store their fruit and vegetables better to avoid waste and plan their meals more carefully. Some municipal authorities want to go further and increase taxes on those who throw away the most rubbish.
"If I throw away food I feel guilty _ even if it's just a little bit," said Tania Carbonare, a 45-year-old jewelry seller at the Camden Lock market in London.

Those who remember Britain's 1940s "Dig for Victory" campaign to turn home gardens and soccer fields into vegetable patches say the past holds lessons for any food crisis.
Eggs, butter, meat and cheese were all strictly rationed, prompting an adventurous few to turn to squirrels or horses for protein. "We didn't live very grandly, but we learned to make do with what we'd got," said Helen Trevena, 82, who recalled sweetening her tea with jam when sugar was scarce.

Britain's Women's Institute, launched in 1915 to help cut waste and encourage thrift during World War I, is once again offering classes on cutting food waste and livening up leftovers.
"People want those skills," said Ruth Bond, an institute stalwart from Cambridge in southern England. "Apart from anything else, it helps them save money."

Associated Press writer Emily Ristow contributed to this report.

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